Eastern European countries have pledged to raise the question of varying food quality in different regions of Europe at the next meeting of EU agricultural ministers next Monday.
After probes in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary revealed that inferior quality products are being sold to their shoppers, Bulgaria and Romania’s food control agencies said they will also examine the produce of multinational brands in terms of varying quality.
“Selling products from the same brand and the same producer, but with a different quality, in the common [EU] market is unacceptable,” Hristo Bozukov, Bulgaria’s Agriculture Minister, told Darik Radio on Tuesday.
At an EU agricultural council meeting on Monday, Bozukov proposed establishing a new EU body to ensure that the quality of food on sale in Eastern and Western Europe is the same.
But the Bulgarian minister said this drew opposition from his German colleague.
“The German minister said it is not necessary to burden European structures with another 700 administrators, which is not understandable to me,” Bozukov said, adding that control groups have been formed without problems on other occasions.
He has ordered Bulgaria’s Food Safety Agency to carry out checks on different products of multinational food companies sold in Bulgaria and compare them with the same ones offered in Western markets.
If discrepancies are identified, Bulgaria will demand that the retailers sell them products with the same quality as those on sale in the Western market.
However, Bogomil Nikolov, president of the Bulgarian consumers organization, “Active Consumers”, has also expressed doubts about whether a new EU regulatory body is necessary.
He called for better coordination and cooperation between the regulators in the different EU member states. “If someone thinks the problem can be resolved at once, they are seriously mistaken,” Nikolov said.
He added that Western countries have realized that the best way to correct defects in the market is by improving the access to information for consumers.
“Our problem is that every time a fuss is made, it lasts for only three days and then people forget it,” he said.
Romanian Agriculture Minister Petre Daea said last Tuesday he had put together a working group with representatives of the country's Consumer Protection Agency and Public Health Authority to investigate possible "double standards" in food products sold in Romania and the West. The results will be sent to the European Commission.
The ministry has also organized a debate with farmers, producers and commercial chains to discuss the possibility of the double standards.
Romanian farmers believe the country has faced the problem of lower quality products for years.
Romania has adopted legislation that allows institutions to eliminate low quality products from stores.
The head of the country's Cattle and Sheep Exporters, Mary Pana, said if hypermarkets obeyed the law, the risk of selling lower quality merchandise would be significantly reduced.
The head of the Dairy Producers association, Dorin Cojocaru , warned that investigating something like this would take a long time.
EU legislation is strict about countries trying to force shops to local local produce, however.
The European Commission started infringement proceedings against Romania and Hungary for laws passed that compel supermarkets to source 51 per cent of their food products from the local producers.